You Are the Church


On a recent trip to Malawi and Uganda this past March, I was bestowed the great honor of being a guest speaker at a three-day conference that led up to the grand opening of a new COTN¬Uganda church plant and school chapel.

Construction had just finished on a large multipurpose building right at COTN’s school, and our spiritual care staff finally had the facility to start the local church they had spent years praying for. They asked me to prepare messages that would inspire participants at the conference by answering the question, “what makes a healthy church?”

Children and staff are so excited about the new multipurpose building at COTN's school. It will be used for many different acitvities at school and serve as a place for church and chapel services. 

My crowded mind, filled with all the other work activities that I needed to attend to while in Uganda, struggled to put words down on paper in preparation for the conference, but to no avail. I would have to trust God to provide inspiration and a clear message as the trip neared. 
When the time came to arrive in Uganda, I was beyond excited. It would be a reunion with one very special girl in our family’s life: Santa, our sponsored child, who I’d first met in 2009. Back then she was a timid, quiet little girl who’d been through some of the most traumatic events—things no child should ever have to go through. She’d been orphaned by the terrible rebel war led by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. Through COTN, she and her siblings were rescued for a second chance at life. And now, my heart raced with anticipation to see her again.

                     Jeff and his sponsored child Santa share a moment at the COTN-Uganda Children's Homes.
Moments after our missionary airplane landed, my eyes locked on the face of a tall, smiling, confident 16-year-old girl who was making her way to the plane. There she stood, an amazingly different young woman, no longer a timid little girl. And over the course of the next week, she and I would connect over and over again in conversations about life, how to truly follow Christ, the value of family, growing up in Uganda, the importance of education, how God has placed us in each other’s lives, and so much more.      
One of the most powerful moments for me was having the privilege of serving alongside Santa. She and a few other children whose sponsors were visiting on a Venture team came with us for a day of service in a local hospital. We visited the sick and gave them soap. The children shared their testimonies with them, and then we prayed over patients. 
After serving together, I asked Santa why she was so bold in talking about Jesus with the patients in the hospital, even to the point of tears. She looked up at me and said, "These are my people and I love them. They need Jesus.” It was a moment of pure joy, the kind that a dad feels when his child demonstrates that they have caught the values they have been taught.  
On the afternoon before the conference, I found some time to step away and pray. As I conversed with God, I kept thinking about those moments serving with Santa in the hospital, and how “the church” is so much more than a building.
“You are the Church.” 
My mind raced while my pen filled page after page with words, scriptures, and illustrations. I thought back on the last two weeks in Malawi and Uganda, significant moments with staff and children who were being the church together. God drew me back to those moments of worship, dance, prayer, training, encouragement, laughter, tears, loving one another. He was showing me all along what makes a healthy church. It was a rough looking document, nothing a perfectionist, like me, would have ever shared with anyone in public. But that’s what made this so powerful. God was using my weakness, my jumbled thoughts and imperfections to show His greatness. 
“You. Are. The Church.” I repeated that phrase multiple times to the group of nearly 400 Ugandan children, adults, community members, staff, and pastors. “What is a healthy church? A healthy church begins with you, because you are the church!"   
The church is not a building. It’s not something we go to, but rather the church is you and me running after Jesus together. Ironically, a healthy church is made up of sick, depraved, sinful humans who are learning to lean on God’s grace and mercy. And whether we meet in a building or under the shade of an acacia tree in the middle of Uganda, the church is alive and well as long as we continue to understand that you and I are the church.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may God continue to show us all how to be a healthy, vibrant, and authentic church together. And may we never stop meeting together in fellowship, worship, prayer, and serving, as our heavenly Father has invited us to reflect His image to a world who desperately needs to know His love. We are the church.

COTN commissioned the new church plant and school chapel in Uganda on March 22, 2015, for the purpose of raising spiritually healthy children, families, and communities who will transform their nation through Christ. To learn more or support the Spiritual Care Department, click here.